(Unedited) Podcast Transcript 346: Saved Mental Energy

August 12, 2021

This week we’re joined by Melissa and Chris Bruntlett to talk about their book, Curbing Traffic: The Human Case for Fewer Cars in Our Lives. We chat about the ambient stress and anxiety created by auto oriented cities, the mental energy saved by car light spaces, and the difference between engineering and ecological resilience.

You can find the audio for the episode at Streetsblog USA.

Jeff Wood (1m 23s):
Well, Melissa and Chris, Bruntlett welcome to the talking headways podcast. Hi there.

Chris Bruntlett (1m 27s):
Great to speak to you again, Jeff. Yeah.

Jeff Wood (1m 29s):
Well, welcome back you all. We’re on episode 201 about three years ago. So what have you all been up to since your last book building the Dutch cycling city? Well, you know, not much,

Melissa Bruntlett (1m 42s):
We did a bit of a world tour for the first book and then through various meetings for the actual book itself. And then following the book, we managed to both land jobs, working in the field of cycling promotion for a couple of organizations in the Netherlands. And so found ourselves in February of 2019, leaving the west coast of Canada for the low lands of the Netherlands and starting our life with our kids here in Delft, in the Netherlands. And then of course we decided to not take it easy and we wrote another book about it

Jeff Wood (2m 19s):
And it’s a wonderful book and we’ll get to it in a second. I’m really jealous about you all being able to live in the Netherlands. I think in part, because I think last time you were on the show, I told you this, but just to remind listeners, my parents lived there in 2000. They lived in Rotterdam for a year and I got to go visit for Christmas that year and was there for about two weeks. And it was really an amazing experience. I even got to go to Delta. So I’ve been to Delta before we all live in. And so discussions in the book, I’m like, I’ve been there and I’ve been to that area. And I appreciate that. So I’m really jealous of your mobility enabled to move to, to the Netherlands.

Chris Bruntlett (2m 51s):
I mean, yeah, our intention is not to provoke jealousy, amongst mobility advocates. Our intention really is to show how good things can be with long-term political commitment and vision. And I realized that everybody kind of does wish they could pack up and move to this seeming utopia. But our hope is that we can inspire and for them to build this utopia where they live instead.

Jeff Wood (3m 18s):
Well, I, yeah, and I do love my city. I mean, San Francisco is a pretty wonderful place and I can get around fairly easily without a vehicle. I don’t even own a car. It’s nice. But yeah, I just, I just have fond memories, I guess, but you guys have moving there, you all have noticed some like big quality of life improvements, which one of those is the most apparent to you.

Melissa Bruntlett (3m 36s):
So it’s a great question. I think when you really boil it all down, at least for me, I think it’s the reduction of stress. I feel on a daily basis because I’m not exposed to the same external stresses or ambient stresses that we were in Vancouver. I mean, Vancouver was absolutely lovely. You know, we were very, very happy there, you know, being around nature and the coast and being able to cycle everywhere. But the level of traffic was still so high that, you know, on my daily commute, there were various moments when I just felt completely stressed out. So where most of us who cycle to and from work, use that opportunity to de-stress from the day.

Melissa Bruntlett (4m 17s):
And in some ways it was cycling on the seawall. But as soon as I had to interact with, you know, four or six lanes of traffic, I could feel my stress increasing. And nowadays when we walk around or we cycle around, it’s very much that therapeutic experience. It’s very calming. And I mean, we, I think we’re often pinching ourselves that this is what we get to experience. Just walking to the stores, you know, quiet, we hear birds, we are people and our interactions with motor vehicles are, are very limited. So I think that the reduction of stress and what that has meant just for feeling more at ease, I think has been the biggest qualitative transformation.

Chris Bruntlett (4m 54s):
I mean, one of the things that we tried to capture in the book, and it’s not just about our quality of life, is I think we are amazed by the diversity and variety of people using the streets here. And this is kind of our main argument for reducing the amount of cars and the speed of cars and cities is you suddenly enable huge segments of the population that were otherwise excluded to not, to, to use the streets, but to participate in society. So we’re talking about children, we’re talking about people with physical disabilities, the elderly women, people of lower incomes.

Melissa Bruntlett (5m 29s):
People have a variety of backgrounds in color. So I mean, where we would probably surrounded more by people that looked like us here, it’s much more diverse in terms of the visual differences between people using them.

Chris Bruntlett (5m 40s):
So there’s yeah, th this is what we try to communicate is if cities are serious about equity and they’re serious about inclusion, that they should be talking about enabling those segments of society to move around independently, rather than rely on an expensive and exclusive mode of transport that doesn’t work for. Absolutely everybody.

Jeff Wood (6m 0s):
And that’s a key point in the book that you mentioned a number of times. I mean, there’s good research that shows that, you know, a good amount of people in the United States and north America, even around the world, can’t get in a car or even are aren’t even able to get in a car. And so making streets for all abilities and all people is actually a benefit to the community rather than a negative.

Melissa Bruntlett (6m 20s):
Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, one of the things that we have heard a lot throughout the pandemic in the talks around in other cities around creating open streets or low traffic neighborhoods is, you know, in particular, what it does is discriminate against people with less physical mobility, be it they’re wheelchair users, or they happen to be visually impaired and this, that, and the other, and all of those arguments while they, you know, for some people might seem in good faith are making the assumption that these people want to be dependent on others to get around or have the economic means to have one of these adapted motor vehicles, which can be quite a serious expense for a lot of people.

Melissa Bruntlett (7m 2s):
So to make those assumptions that a car is the only way that they can get it around freely is to really negate much of their experience or, or make a lot of assumptions that don’t actually come from a place of reality. You know, I think the stat that we post or reason the book is that 60% of people living with disabilities in the UK don’t have access to a motor vehicle. And so, you know, that’s a significant chunk of the population that simply is left, stuck at home, or reliant on others, which as Chris said, really excludes them from society.

Jeff Wood (7m 38s):
The most interesting thing I think for me about the book was its focus on, while you say it at the beginning of the book, it’s not about the bikes, it’s about reducing auto traffic there’s themes that, that kind of crisscrossed, the whole book overall there’s reduced stress, reduced noise, increased community, increased safety and wellbeing was that intentional to, you know, kind of move away. You, you wrote the last book about cycling, but this book seems to be more about health wellbeing and just greater, almost satisfaction.

Chris Bruntlett (8m 8s):
Exactly. Yeah. I think in hindsight, we did this backwards. We wrote the how with building the cycling city and then we pivoted and did the wrote the why with the second book. But that was only because at the time in 2017, when we were writing the first book, we assumed that the Y was already widely known. There’d been plenty of books written on the topic, but the why was always focused on reducing congestion improvement, public health, you know, addressing climate change. And it wasn’t until we came to the Netherlands and lived here as residents that we really appreciated that there’s a much bigger picture to this lie. And it’s not the, the more obvious benefits or drawbacks that we discuss as, as urbanists and transportation planners.

Chris Bruntlett (8m 51s):
There’s a much bigger picture here and there’s a much bigger end game than just getting people cycling that cities have used the bicycle to create these low carbon cities. Getting more people cycling is not the goal in and of itself. It’s the tool as we express to achieve this end goal of fewer cars on their streets. So what the Dutch used other cities can use. Other tools, Switzerland, for example, has a great public transportation network to achieve the same goal of low car cities. But it’s all those benefits that come with having fewer cars moving and stored on our streets that we really wanted to capture. And as you said, it’s, it’s a much bigger than the obvious that it comes down to equity, to mental health, to economic prosperity resiliency.

Chris Bruntlett (9m 35s):
And especially during the pandemic and post pandemic, as we look dealing with extreme weather and climate change, there are all these really compelling reasons that we should be doing this. So we wanted to yeah, really kind of communicate that so that not just urbanists and mobility planners understand, but hopefully a broader audience understands that this isn’t just an environmental fight or a public health fight. There’s much bigger stakes in terms of getting our cities to be better places to live.

Melissa Bruntlett (10m 4s):
Yeah, something that we talked about in the first book is that, you know, it’s important that we get outside of the bubble of something that we talk about in our daily work. It’s important that everyone understands why these steps in these, these low car environments are so important to the future of our cities. And so we really wanted this book to help communicate that, not just to people as Chris said within the urbanist bubble, but for, you know, for anyone to pick it up and understand the greater costs, but also to understand how these organizations can work together. So the public health organizations, the historical preservation organizations, the environmental organizations can all come together and use these evidence based research or this evidence-based research to really help change the conversation to one where it’s, you know, us versus them to one of more working together towards a greater goal.

Jeff Wood (10m 55s):
Yeah. I think that’s most apparent in the story that I think everybody should read. I mean, obviously everyone should read the whole book, but I think the one that really got me and I was on the train home from my grandmother’s house this evening, finishing up the book and I read the part about your neighbor, Peter. And it’s a great story about, you know, him living in the same neighborhood, his whole life, living next to his family members who are still in the same neighborhood, being able to take care of his brother who, you know, has the starting parts of dementia that really struck me. And I, I actually, I was, I was getting a little teary-eyed a little bit while I was reading it because it made me feel good. I think that’s part of the story as well as people and how, you know, this environment allows them to be human.

Melissa Bruntlett (11m 38s):
Yeah. I mean, that’s, I, I’m glad that that’s what you got from that chapter, but that’s, that was our goal. I think with every chapter in starting with, for the most part stories about our first year living here, but also sharing the story of Peter and also friend Maya, who gets around in a, in an ability scooters to really show what it means for us at a human level. So, you know, with our kids, what it means for them, when we create child-friendly spaces, where they can travel around independently, autonomously all the way through to old age and to people like Peter, who, you know, we see people that look like if our great grandparents were still alive or my grandparents even, you know, they can get around independently by bicycle here or by foot very easily.

Melissa Bruntlett (12m 26s):
And to be able to translate that to every city would be such a huge benefit to vast portions of the population. So we really wanted to communicate what that means at a very personal level for a lot of people, because I think that creates a very compelling argument as well. When we can say, yes, we understand this is the way it has been, but this is how this group can benefit. If we change things even in small ways to give people more options for independent and autonomous travel,

Chris Bruntlett (12m 55s):
That particular chapter of the aging city was I think in part motivated by us watching our parents and our grandparents getting old and really struggling in car dominated places. I’m not sure what it’s like, where your grandmother lives, Jeff, but my grandfather in particular, he’s no longer with us, but lived in workshare in England in a city of about a hundred thousand similar size to Delft. But when he hit his early eighties, his driver’s license was taken away and we watched him slip into this depression because, you know, he only lived two or three kilometers from the city center, but anytime he needed to go to church to go to dance lessons, to play cards, to go to the doctor, to go shopping, he was completely dependent on my family to give him a ride or, you know, a bus that might show up every 45 or 60 minutes, if at all.

Chris Bruntlett (13m 45s):
And he really struggled with that. And now we’re watching our parents as they hit retirement. Yeah. Getting old in a similar environment to us, it’s just this mounting problem as the baby boom generation gets older is we haven’t thought about what happens when they cannot drive. And the statistic we pull out is we’re living on average now seven to 10 years longer than we can safely drive. Well, what does that mean in terms of our ability to live our lives freely and independently, and to get around autonomously. And hopefully we’ve posed some questions about how we can address that. And, and also what that looks like in a city. That’s figured it out, such as with our neighbor Peter here in Delft.

Jeff Wood (14m 24s):
Yeah. I mean, my, my grandmother, I mean, she’s, she’s 108, so she’s, she’s getting enough age. Wow. But she gave away her keys. I mean, she’s been legally blind since the nineties and maybe even earlier, but you know, she gave her my sister, her car keys early on, and she still had friends that could come and play bridge with her and all that stuff. But it was heartening to me that actually, after my parents lived in Rotterdam, they kind of get that different experience. They lived in a flat downtown and they were able to, my dad was able to walk to work. My was able to walk to those shops in the neighborhood. And I think that actually changed their perception of what they saw in their future. And they still drive now, but they bought a house in an area where once they won’t be able to drive, they can walk and they can get to places.

Jeff Wood (15m 5s):
And I think part of that came from seeing the neighborhood where my grandmother lived in and how she’s kind of trapped in that space. Now she has caregivers and stuff, and obviously she’s much older and needs a bit more help than maybe before. But I think that that experience in living in the Netherlands actually helped my parents make a similar decision that you’re talking about and that you are worried about for your, your folks.

Melissa Bruntlett (15m 26s):
Yeah. I think one thing that’s been nice, but they both fortunately been able to travel here prior to the pandemic and they understand why we moved here and they, you can tell when they’re here, they can see the benefits of being able to walk anywhere. And it’s only, you know, a 10 minute walk into the city center at their pace or, you know, being able to cycle around with them to different places. And while, you know, for my parents, it hasn’t meant moving closer to amenities. Fortunately they happen to me not too far away from one of the big box developments that pops up in Kitchener, Ontario. And so now they actually, you know, when they can, they do walk there more often than not because they see, you know, that it’s, it’s nicer to get their own foot and if they can do that, they will.

Melissa Bruntlett (16m 7s):
And you know, hopefully not everyone can have that experience, but hopefully what those of us, you know, in working in this profession can do is try to transfer much more of these experiences. And, you know, it’s great that Chris and I, through our day jobs get to work with cities in north America that are actively trying to do that. And while it might take a decade or two to get to some resemblance of what we have here, it’s nice to know that the work is happening in various places, particularly where our parents haven’t happened to live, which is nice

Jeff Wood (16m 37s):
And shifting to kind of the other spectrum of children and kids. You know, one of the things that struck me also was the idea of saving mental energy from kid activity programming. I think so many parents, you know, have that schedule that they’re kind of stuck to where they have to take their kids here and they take their kids there. How much mental energy have you saved over the last year or two?

Chris Bruntlett (17m 1s):
We, we sometimes joke that we’re now part time empty-nesters because of course building, you know, safe streets gives the children independence and mobility, and it helps them develop into well-rounded young adults and, and developmentally is very good for them, but it’s also, as we argue in the book, very good for the parents themselves who spend far less time in a car, shuttling them around, supervising their mobility, getting them to guitar lessons, or baseball practice or friends’ houses. And there’s no doubt that we Melissa and I have a lot of additional time and money and mental energy to focus on the things that we like to do.

Chris Bruntlett (17m 42s):
And, you know, for us, it’s sitting out on our front stoop and reading a book and watching the bicycles go by, but there’s no doubt for the first 16 years of our lives. Again, we are unable to drive a car and yet we build still continue to build cities that require that. And it’s only by flipping that script and giving children an independent way to get from a, to B, do we liberate them and liberate parents from this chauffeur role that has been thwarted upon them.

Jeff Wood (18m 9s):
There was another piece in there indoor versus outdoor children that got to me as well. And as a cartographer or lapsed cartographer, I should say, I don’t do it as much anymore, but you know, I made maps and directions were my thing, and it’s still kind of my thing. My sisters make fun of me for claiming to be a cartographer and knowing where to go. But, you know, it’s something that is really interesting, like are kids going to lose the ability to navigate? And I think you all address that to a certain extent in the book.

Melissa Bruntlett (18m 36s):
Yeah. I mean, when you, when you think about, you know, this indoor generation or the backseat generation, they really are experiencing the world from within their parents hold really like it’s it’s as though parents are still holding a baby and carrying them around from place to place. And so, you know, particularly with the backseat generation, if you only experienced the world from inside your house to inside a car, to inside your school or inside the community center, the connections between those places are lost because someone else is navigating for you and you don’t have to think about it. And in some respects, if the environment is very high traffic and you know, it was very unsafe, obviously for a lot of people, that’s the choice that’s forced upon them, but when you enable more active ways of getting around and then particularly enable that to happen from a younger age.

Melissa Bruntlett (19m 22s):
So, you know, we see children as young, as, you know, sometimes six with an older sibling or eight more independently traveling around the city, going into the city center to buy candy or, or just playing on the streets. They start to see how the streets connect them and how the public space connects them to these nodes, other activity nodes for their daily lives. And it does help to build, you know, this recognition of direction and what to look for and what to be aware of. I mean, as we know it in the book, it hasn’t necessarily helped our eldest they’ve gotten much better being able to navigate, but it is still, you know, they, they recognize landmarks, both kids do of, of where they need to be.

Melissa Bruntlett (20m 7s):
And if, you know, we’re talking about, oh, we have to go to this certain place. They might not remember a street name, but if he can say, oh, if you go to the station and then go pass my office, you know, it’s just up the river from there, you know, that place. And they’ll say, oh yeah, I know how to get there. And, you know, they start to map out the city and have a much better idea of how to get where our son finds shortcuts that he likes to introduce us to. And this is all part of like learning and adapting to an environment to make us as adults, much more nimble and able to navigate, not just our cities, but figuring out how to navigate other cities. And so it’s, it’s an important moment of learning that, that every child needs and yeah,

Chris Bruntlett (20m 48s):
The academic that we interviewed for that chapter, and we referenced a number of our papers and we would certainly recommend that people look up her work because she’s done a lot of research, not just on the geography of the indoor in the backseat generation, but the social circles that they keep. And, and this is the other part of the equation is when you’re supervised from a to B to C within a bubble, you’re also in a social bubble and you’re really only exposed to people within your socioeconomic class and never really exposed to people outside of that bubble. And something we see daily on the streets of Delft is, well, we have to cycle all around the city into the other areas. The other parts of the city that are perhaps lower income and have a higher population of immigrants and refugees.

Chris Bruntlett (21m 31s):
And as a result, there’s a natural intermingling in interaction that takes place on the streets. That means you’re more empathetic and more likely to interact and maybe even strike up a conversation. So you’re building trust and understanding and empathy simply through the design of your streets. And it’s something that we’ve lost again, traveling around in our own bubbles, supervised by our parents.

Jeff Wood (21m 53s):
It also gives you the ability to find secret spaces apparently.

Melissa Bruntlett (21m 59s):
Exactly. Yes. We still, I don’t think we’ve actually ever found this park that our eldest goes to, to have some time to themselves. We know what’s in the neighborhood and we know that other children go there, but we still don’t know where it is.

Jeff Wood (22m 12s):
That’s okay. That’s good to have, have your own thing from time to time. One of the things that also, you know, I’ve been thinking about a lot is kind of the increases in technology and a discussion about smart cities, smart curbs, access management, all these things that are designed around cars, but it feels like maybe the venture capitalists are wasting their money. If we could do things, you know, without vehicles in the, in a car-free city.

Melissa Bruntlett (22m 40s):
Yeah. I think there’s a place for smart tech in terms of transportation, but we do focus so much on self-driving cars, autonomous vehicles and less so on how those technologies could potentially support more sustainable transport, because it’s always the bigger the flashier. The more, you know, we were all watching with baited breath, says the billionaires all went up into space. And so, you know, we’re so focused on how tech can save us when there are simple solutions here. And in lots of cities that are making this investment in more human scale, travel that in the longterm will really benefit more people in and help to maintain, or even create more ecological resiliency.

Melissa Bruntlett (23m 24s):
In our cities.

Chris Bruntlett (23m 25s):
A couple of examples we use in the book of where technology is used to encourage the modes of transport that the government would like to see rather than, than making driving more efficient. You know, and a lot of the intersections, the traffic lights are synchronized, or they have smart sensors to prioritize pedestrian and bicycle traffic. In a few instances, the green is always kept on for those road users. And then the car has to quote unquote beg for permission to cross the street, but also in the field of bicycle parking. And I think it’s something we really take for granted now is when we’re cycling into the city center or the train station, there are digital signs that show where we can pick our bicycle and how many spaces are left.

Chris Bruntlett (24m 6s):
And this is all updated in real time so that we can ensure that we’re parking as close to the platform as we can. And that we know when the next train is coming. And so by communicating that information, they are promoting more sustainable modes of transportation rather than helping people drive into the city center and well used our cars all everywhere

Melissa Bruntlett (24m 26s):
All the time. Yeah. I think one of the things that we’ve also looked into very peripherally and I think there’s much more interesting information to be done. There is how tech can even assist with people with varying levels of mobility. So, you know, apps that tell people that are visually impaired, where the shops they want to go, or how busy they might be, you know, help the signal lights that they’re coming. You know, there’s all these great innovations in investments in tech that can really help us travel at a more human level. Even the, even the travel apps that we all take for granted that let us know what train is coming. When you know, these are all great investments that if we can make them more efficient and more accessible and ensure that we’re understanding that not everyone has the same access to technology.

Melissa Bruntlett (25m 9s):
So how do we manage that? We can really help to better our cities instead of just focusing on, you know, what we see as sexy as the, the autonomous vehicles, because they’re not going to change the congestion in our cities. They’re not going to improve the social connection. They’re actually going to worsen it in most likely cases. You know, there’s a lot of things that they’re saying we’ll solve with the, the Elon Musk’s of the world say will be solved by the autonomous car that will only exacerbate the problems we have. So let’s invest that money elsewhere in ways that can benefit more people within our populations,

Jeff Wood (25m 44s):
Maybe like improving the sound produced from tires. I read that piece in the book and it wasn’t answered. And so I wanted to ask you, why are tire companies not wanting to make their tires quieter, even though that’s the biggest noise that comes out of, of vehicles at certain lower speeds.

Chris Bruntlett (25m 60s):
Yeah, exactly. It’s a great question. Well, to give a bit of background, so we looked into this topic of noise pollution because it’s something that really fascinates us. And you really notice when you come to a city in the Netherlands is how quiet they are. And we were surprised to learn that it’s actually the friction of the tires on the street that at least for speeds of 55 kilometers an hour or greater actually exceed the propulsion noise. And we spell out a number of policy and engineering decisions we can make to reduce that noise. But one that apparently the tire industry has fought against for decades is the low friction, low noise tires, because it would add expense to the end product.

Chris Bruntlett (26m 43s):
And while that would obviously be passed along to the consumer, they still lobbied here in the EU at the EU level and undoubtedly elsewhere in the world as well to avoid that type of regulation or mandation from the government to require those types of tires. So for now we’re, we’re, we’re stuck where we are. And so we, we spell out the other things that we can do in terms of reducing speeds and obviously reducing the number of cars, reducing the number of lanes. But one big thing we could do is regulate and mandate these low noise tires.

Jeff Wood (27m 14s):
You all talked about the book a lot, I’m sure you’ve done a number of interviews and written pieces for a number of outlets. What’s something that you all wish more people wanted to know about the book or the topic. That’s a

Melissa Bruntlett (27m 26s):
Great question. And then we do talk about it a bit, but I think, you know, for me writing this book was really about communicating the mental health benefits. And, you know, we do talk about it a little bit, but I think much more energy should be spent on how high traffic high stress cities really impact the mental health of everyone. So for young children, one of the stats we talked about in the book is that the kids in the us that are traveling longer distances to school and are constantly tired because I have to get up earlier and then get to activities. This is having a significant impact on their mental health and their anxiety levels and increasing greater levels of depression. You know, this is really important when we’re talking, you know, so many of us have kids or know of kids that are, are dealing or struggling with these mental illnesses.

Melissa Bruntlett (28m 14s):
And, and, you know, I don’t think we make that connection often enough be that for children or, or any age or ability, the connection between how transportation really has that impact on how our brains function healthily. So that was one of the reasons I really wanted to write this book is to help communicate that to a lot of people, because I think it’s really important and really benefits everyone. I mean, we all experience stress, anxiety, various levels of depression. And if our cities can help to mitigate some of that in terms of how we move through it or how other people move around us, I think is a benefit to society as a whole.

Chris Bruntlett (28m 53s):
I think so far, you know, the book’s only been out two months now, the chapter that’s got the least attention and the least number of questions has been chapter nine, the resilience city, which is very interesting, especially given the timing of the book, being written and released around the COVID pandemic, because it really changed the way we approached that chapter. We had pitched it to island press before the pandemic happened, but much of the research and the experiences we write about were informed by the way, the world was locked down for months and months and, and a lot of cities scrambled to change their streets and create more walking and cycling space and dining space on the streets and parking lots.

Chris Bruntlett (29m 36s):
But unfortunately there’s been very little discussion about the moment in time that we find ourselves how that may have changed the thinking of the population, how that might’ve changed, how politicians are thinking, because we hope and think that it may be an inflection point for a lot of cities in terms of seeing how it can be different, seeing how quickly the change can come. And suddenly as the Netherlands did in the 1970s oil crisis, completely pivot to not a car-free society, but a more varied and balanced approach to street design and transportation design. But yeah, I think disappointed maybe a bit strong, but I think we’ve been surprised at how little this conversation is taking place.

Chris Bruntlett (30m 20s):
Cities are seemingly wanting to bounce back to the status quo, and you’re seeing it now with the infrastructure bill in the United States. They’re about to spend billions and billions on highways and widening is if this pandemic never happened. And as we look ahead to well climate change and the impact that’s having in terms of extreme weather fuel, sort of just, we saw highways flooded in Detroit, like surely this has to have an impact at some point the way we approach these investments. But we haven’t seen unfortunately very much evidence of it at this moment in time. You

Jeff Wood (30m 53s):
Know, when I was reading the book, I kept thinking of that same thing. I was thinking, I want to send every Senator, who’s writing this bill, this book, because there’s just so much in it that if they’ve read it and they understand, I mean, I think people look at transportation from a distance and they, they get in their car maybe every day or they’re driven somewhere every day. And they don’t really think about how it’s impacting people. And I think the discussion about mental health is really important. Obviously you have really good stats in the book about reduced sleep from kids, having to basically commute to school. The further you live from your school, the less sleep you get. And in San Francisco, it’s really ridiculous that you don’t actually go to the school.

Jeff Wood (31m 35s):
That’s nearest to you. You have a lottery where you go to the school that the lottery gives you. And in some instances, some people have to drive across the city just to get to school when they might have one around the corner that they could walk to, which it’s really ridiculous, especially in light of the information that you all give us. But the resilience piece is really interesting too. I mean, I thought about, you know, that discussion between the engineering resilience versus the ecological resilience in a number of times, and thinking about how we just, like you mentioned Chris, I mean, just trying to bounce back to quote unquote normal when a lot of people don’t want to go to normal because normal wasn’t good. Right?

Chris Bruntlett (32m 12s):
Couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Melissa Bruntlett (32m 14s):
I mean, when we wrote that chapter, the woman we interviewed, Dr. Wang was so informative, she set up such a treat to talk to in the first place. She’s just such a character. I think we learned a lot in that conversation that now we see how it applies or can be applied all the time. When we look around us and think about how much better it would be if we focus much more on ecological resilience, as opposed to just always trying to bounce back, especially, you know, we watched as, and continue to watch as our former home went through a heat wave and is now in one of the worst forest fire seasons on record, we’re now at a point where we can’t keep bouncing back to the original or where we were before we have to move forward.

Melissa Bruntlett (32m 59s):

Jeff Wood (32m 59s):
You explain that difference? The difference in briefly, I mean, I want people to buy the book and read it, but the brief difference between the engineering resilience and ecological resilience. Cause that really struck me when I was reading it.

Chris Bruntlett (33m 9s):
Yeah. So Dr. Judy gang from the university of Leeds in the United Kingdom, we spoke to, and there’s written this great paper pointing out that there are two definitions for the term resilience. And this was something we weren’t aware of until we, we spoke to her, that engineering resilience is what we traditionally think of as know, absorbing shock or change from the outside, and then returning to our original state. Whereas ecological resilience is a slightly different concept that it means absorbing a certain amount of, of shock or change. And if that shock or changes is too much for the system pivoting and adjusting and turning, if you will, to a different normal rather than returning to the original state.

Chris Bruntlett (33m 53s):
So, you know, the example we use of the Netherlands in the 1970s was this outside shock of an oil crisis. The gasoline shortage, six weeks of car-free Sundays and the sale of bicycles doubling. This was really a turning point where the Netherlands said a car based mobility system, a car dominated mobility system is no longer acceptable for us as a society because it’s so fragile to, to outside shocks. So we need to pivot of rebalanced our mobility systems to, you know, again, not just one single mode, but about a third walking and cycling, a third public transportation and the third car based travel.

Chris Bruntlett (34m 33s):
And as a result now, the Netherlands is much better place to deal with these outside shocks and well fuel shortages and extreme weather and the like, and inversely, the United States, which was subject to the same oil crisis, pursued engineering resilience then went right back to its original state, maybe even doubling down or tripling down on, on this car, dependence dominance. And they’re at a point now where I think we pulled out the stat, 85% of all journeys are made by car. And that remains, you know, a very fragile and well single minded mobility system. That’s not going to farewell in the 21st century.

Melissa Bruntlett (35m 11s):
Well, it hasn’t fared well in, in terms of some of the, you know, we think back to New York city after the hurricane that I can’t remember the name of the hurricane that went through New York, but you know,

Jeff Wood (35m 23s):
There was just there’s too many now. Yeah, I know, I know it’s hard to remember them, all the

Melissa Bruntlett (35m 27s):
Names, but that one, that one went through, you know, everyone suddenly couldn’t drive and they couldn’t even use public transport. So walking and cycling became the only way people could get around. And so, you know, thinking about that very real, very recent experience should be, you know, a catalyst for looking at more ecological resilience

Jeff Wood (35m 47s):
Number is that you all shared in the book about, you know, after the pandemic started all of these countries and cities starting to build makeshift or temporary bicycle infrastructure. And so they were ranked right. Of who is doing the most. And then the Netherlands wasn’t really on the list because they’d already done it over the last so many years. And so it’s kind of funny that they don’t show up, but they do show up when it can.

Melissa Bruntlett (36m 10s):
Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s, I mean, it’s been very interesting. A lot of the interviews we’ve had over the course of the last 18 months, well, what have the Dutch been doing? You know, we’re organizations are working with, but what examples can you give us for Corona proofing from the Netherlands? And we find ourselves hard pressed to come up with real tangible. This is what’s happened in the last 18 months. Aside from changing a few bike pedestrian shared spaces into pedestrian only, or

Chris Bruntlett (36m 35s):
Tweaking some of the traffic lights to stop the cyclist from bunching up on the corners. But I mean, that’s not entirely true there in Rotterdam and Eindhoven. Some of the more car dominated places, they’ve done some things, but, but relative to the rest of the world, things have been pretty quiet here. But as we point out, it’s because the walking and cycling networks are already there and they can absorb the loss capacity of the public transportation system. And then the same, isn’t true with most other places in the world, which is why they were scrambling to build as temporary infrastructure.

Jeff Wood (37m 5s):
You know, we had Dr. Jennifer Kent on from Australia a couple of weeks ago, talk about dogs and transit, which is a really fascinating subject, but something struck out to me that was, you know, related to, I think what you all were talking about in the book about care infrastructure and in thinking about care as something that is an equity issue and a feminist issue as well. Her point to us when we were talking to her was thinking about how families travel and how families get around. And the point of the trip isn’t necessarily the trip itself, but it’s actually the destination or the activity that you’re going to do. And so that got me thinking of when you all were talking about the care issues that happen when people have to drive there, you know, within doing they’re in charge of taking care of others, whether it’s children or, or, or their parents or whoever else, it seems like it’s not the goal to be going somewhere.

Jeff Wood (37m 54s):
It’s the goal to be doing something and going somewhere. So there’s a connection there. I feel like between those two things. And I’m wondering if you could kind of expand on that issue of care and the car-free city.

Melissa Bruntlett (38m 5s):
Yeah, certainly. So in the feminist chapter, although there’s various themes that link to that in the divisibility chapter, in the economic vitality chapter and in the children and age-friendly city chapters, but essentially character trips to boil it down are the trips that we’d make that are focused on the care of others. So if you have dependents, these are the trips that you take in order to provide for those people, be that getting kids to school, doing groceries, taking of family, running various errands throughout the day, that don’t tend to fall into what transport professionals look at when they’re planning for travel.

Melissa Bruntlett (38m 45s):
So through century of planning for the commute to work, which is a very male dominated perspective, given that, you know, up until the 1950s women made up for a very small proportion of the working population, there’s a lot of focus put on how do we get people efficiently from their home to the office and back again, but there are so many trips that people take those care trips in between there that aren’t facilitated for and made quite difficult, even when you’re traveling by car. And a lot of that burden unfortunately, is shifted to women because they are still despite more balances in that share of care, work again, that those kinds of jobs that we do for others, it’s still predominantly done by women.

Melissa Bruntlett (39m 28s):
So when we shift that, thinking to one that looks more at these care trips, and it’s much more focused on short trips, as opposed to the long trip to work and home, again, cars just aren’t efficient. And so walking and cycling become the much more efficient ways of doing that. And by providing, you know, like in the Netherlands, these well-connected networks that get you from a neighborhood level to the retail level in terms of streets to work eventually and connecting safely, all the various trips that look much more like a spider web, as opposed to a direct a to B, it really is very freeing for the people that are making those trips. It’s obviously more efficient when you connect without having to go around and around in circles, in a car, looking for parking, and it allows time to be freed up as well for in this case women.

Melissa Bruntlett (40m 21s):
So they can connect their trips efficiently, get the jobs they need to done, and I’m much more time efficient way, and then have more time to spend with their kids or to spend with friends or spending with their partners. So it’s, it’s important that, you know, we start to consider those trips more. And one of the first ways to do that is to have more women involved in the planning process at the very basic, because I think nowadays it’s not necessarily an explicit bias by male professionals working in this field, but it’s an experiential bias that if you don’t experience the role of this way, you don’t necessarily plan for it. So the more people we have at the planning table at the decision-making table of diverse genders and backgrounds, we can really start creating a much more holistic approach and a much more equitable approach to our cities.

Melissa Bruntlett (41m 7s):

Chris Bruntlett (41m 7s):
Numbers that we pull out, I think were 10 to 20% of the transportation field is female in the United States and in the UK. So it’s a problem that continues to pervade and implicit or explicit bias means that we’re investing in the wrong places. And the example we we draw from in the book is the gardener expressway in Toronto, the city of Toronto has decided to replace it. This piece of aging infrastructure at a tremendous tag, it’s going to take up 44% of the city’s transportation budget over the next 10 years to move 6% of their commuters. And when they looked at cheaper at great options, those options were dismissed because they would have added two or three minutes to the average commute time.

Chris Bruntlett (41m 52s):
So we continue to invest in the wrong places, in the wrong types of infrastructure. Think of what 44% of the city of Toronto’s transportation budget could do for walking and cycling and public transportation, allowing more people with greater need, the ability to access their city. And unfortunately, we’re putting it into places with the people that already have the most mobility and the most means, and they generally are able employed men. Yeah.

Jeff Wood (42m 17s):
We chatted with Carol Martin about access on an episode two, which kind of made that similar point. It’s pretty intense. I want to be mindful of y’all’s time. I know you have a hard out, this is my last question. Is there another book in the works?

Melissa Bruntlett (42m 30s):
No, you’re always sorry. It’s disappointing. When they ask us that question, it’s obviously a great passion of ours to share these ideas with people. And that’s what drove us to write drove, sorry, sorry for the word choice there. But that’s what really brought us to write these two books. But I think we are now at a point in our lives where it’s time to enjoy the fruits of our labor. We’ll obviously keep sharing all of the experience. We have any research, any projects that come our way through our various day jobs or through our experiences in the promotion of the book and sharing the story by our social media channels. But I think it’s time for some rest and relaxation and reduced stress in this very social environment we find ourselves in.

Chris Bruntlett (43m 19s):
Yeah, we, I think once to put all of our time and energy, you know, our day jobs and help make these changes happen in cities around the world and the process of writing, researching, interviewing, and editing this book was immense. And it took a toll on us whilst working day jobs and the pandemic made it a little bit easier, but I, I just, I can’t imagine doing it again. And I think it’s important that other people share their stories and their work. We kind of feel at this point, we’ve said all we need to say, and no,

Melissa Bruntlett (43m 53s):
We’re happy to make space now for other people to share their experience and really help to diversify the voices that are out there.

Jeff Wood (44m 1s):
Well, people have two whole books to go and read and digest as well. And obviously your social media, if they want to keep more, more Brentwoods in their lives, the book is curbing traffic, the human case for fewer cars in our lives. You can find it. I imagine that island press or bookstores wherever you find your books. And I would suggest go into your local bookstore and get in the book. Chris and Melissa, thank you so much for joining us. We really, really appreciate.

Chris Bruntlett
Yeah. Thanks so much for having us.

Listen to the Talking Headways Podcast


…the first thing I read every morning is the newsletter to see what’s been out there. It’s great to have an aggregator that pulls everything together so nicely.

Joe Cortright, City Observatory

I think that the email newsletter that you do every morning is the best one that I get, and I get a lot of them.

Mary Newsom, The UNC Charlotte Urban Institute

Really is the best daily urban newsletter out there.

Eric Jaffe, Editorial Director Sidewalk Labs


To Receive The Overhead Wire in Your Inbox Daily

Premium Daily Subscription

The Premium Daily Subscription is our most information packed offering, chock full of over 30 pieces of news every single day. Included are popular features such as the quote of the day and the most read article from the previous day. Also included is our weekly roundup for times when you are strapped for time but need to know what’s going on.

Premium Weekly Subscription

The Premium Weekly Subscription is for professionals constantly under a time crunch. We take the most read items from the week before and share them with subscribers along with more in depth analysis of a single popular topic.

Learn More and Subscribe

Top Links

of the past 48 hours

Video of the Day

Friends of The Overhead Wire

Back To Top

Welcome to The Overhead Wire

What Can We Help You Find?

Try Our Newsletter For Free